Irving A. Greenfield
Guilt By Association
Paul Stimetz, the I, in this story knows something is radically wrong with him that has nothing to do with the aches and pains besieging his eighty-five-year-old body. He knows the problem lies elsewhere. But he hasn’t the slightest inkling of where that elsewhere is or what it is? He has lived what he considers to have been an ordinary life, though many of his friends would disagree with him. That he was a sailor, soldier, VP of an advertising firm, a high school English teacher, and finally a college professor was only part of his vita; the rest of it was devoted to his authorial activities, which were many, varied, and somewhat successful. But never “top draw.” There were times (and still are times) when he considered himself a gnome moiling away not in the depths of a mine for gold or precious stones, or rather in cyber-space—a place as illusive to pin down as the human mind—to find an e-zine or hard copy magazine that would publish one of his stories. To him it became a numbers game. If he sent out thirty or forty copies of a story, he was most likely to get a hit. When he first began doing it, there was a measure—the word measure needs clarification; his measure meant and still does mean acceptance, someone will have read what he’d spent hours, days, often weeks writing—of
Irving A. Greenfield’s work has been published in Amarillo Bay, Runaway Parade, Writing Tomorrow, eFictionMag, the Stone Hobo, Prime Mincer, the Note, and Cooweescoowee (2X), and the Stone Canoe, electronic edition. He lives with his wife in Manhattan. He has been a sailor, soldier, college professor, playwright, and novelist. Greenfield has also had 10 OFF OFF-Broadway and Regional Theatre productions and won several awards for them.
satisfaction, a closing if you will. It was the way he preferred events to end. It mimicked life: conception, birth, living, and death, the perfect arc. The portion ascribed to life was where “the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune” affected most people. It was where his difficulties came from. It was where he was, on the descending portion of the arc close to its end. It was at this point in the trajectory that his malaise struck him but not with the suddenness of a lightning bolt that with its huge potential energy could bring down a huge oak or part of a building; but moving slowly, like seeping water that over time could undermine whatever stood in its way and then like a lightning bolt topple or dissolve it, so that it and whatever it was working on became one. That was what was happening to him. The underground water had surfaced, and he had no idea where it came from, what it was about, and why at this time of his life it manifested itself, plaguing him with its presence.
I’m sitting on a bench; my wife, Essy (Esther) is with me. It’s a Sunday in early May. Many of the flowers: the tulips, crocuses, blue bells, and others are in bloom; and the leaves on the trees are beginning to open, the several weeping willows slightly behind us and to our right are a lovely shade of light green. Our bench, as we sometimes refer to it, is in back of the Jewish Museum, a living memorial to the Holocaust. The rear part of the museum resembles a ziggurat; perhaps an architectural memory of the Babylonian Captivity, whereas the front of it is somewhat of a semi-circle and modern.
We have used this particular bench for years. But now it has become more meaningful. It’s not just a place to go to and stay for a while then, get up and walk away. Go somewhere else. It is our destination, an infinitesimal piece of the earth that permits us to escape from the confining boundaries of our apartment into a much larger and more vibrant world that provides us with something more than just the two of us, with space both physical and mental that somehow cleanses us, or so I think and feel.
Essy had two accidents: one last year in June that required surgery on her left knee and femur and a three and half month stay in a rehabilitation facility, then a second accident occurred in our apartment in which she injured the muscles in her back that put her into weeks of agonizing pain. She is walking with the aid of a walker. The accidents have had an enormous effect on the quality of our lives, drastically restricting our movements and placing me in the role of a caretaker so that I’m living two lives: hers and mine. This duality has produced other results in both of us, none of them salutary either physically or psychologically. I feel overwhelmed, C and I know she feels frustrated and prisoner in her own life. But neither of us have choice; we must impatiently wait until the muscles in her back heal themselves of the trauma they experienced when she fell.
The walkways are busy with people strolling and bicycling. And on the Hudson there are a few sail boats and a tugboat pushing a six-barge lash-up. The river is broad where we sit. A few hundred yards downstream it becomes the Upper New York Bay. Directly across from where we are is the old Baltimore and Ohio railroad station, to its left is Ellis Island, the Statue of Liberty, and Staten Island. On the New Jersey side of the river to the right of the old Baltimore and Ohio railroad station is the very large Colgate Clock and many skyscrapers. All of them built like the building where we live and others in the area on land fill. Our landfill came from the World Trade Center. The river water reflects the color of the sky. Today it has bluish cast to it.
Looking out on the river has a calming effect, but I much rather be looking at ocean waves as they crash against the beach. Even on a calm day there is sense of power that emanates from the action of the waves; and on a windy day the power becomes even more palpable, a roaring that proclaims its magnificent power. The river lacks that, even on a windy day when white wavelets are clearly visible.
Though Essy was sitting next to him, he SHE was very much alone. The panoply of life in front of him scarcely touched his senses. Aware of it, yet unaware of it, he was somewhere else in the long time ago when for short span of time he was an ordinary seaman on T-2 tanker. It was during that experience that he fell in love with the sea, with its vastness, with its ever-changing rhythms and its wild, destructive power. There was something indescribably beautiful about watching a sunrise or sunset at sea,or looking at night sky so full of stars that they really looked like diamonds. Yes, the work was hard and dirty, but somehow that didn’t matter. What did matter was that, young as he was, he was a man amongst other men, that when he went ashore with them there was food, women, and drink. It was elemental. He lived on the cusp of life, almost from moment to moment with nothing left behind him and the present sometimes filled with intensity and other times a waking dream that gave him the feeling there was nothing else, just him and ocean.
Where did all of that go? Had it happened? Of course it happened, but there was, as the years passed, the possibility he had dreamt it, or if had happened, it didn’t happen the way he remembered it. He was so used to constructing the lives of his characters he was no longer sure what was real or unreal when he remembered something that happened years and years ago. But whose memory isn’t warped by time? It was a question he often thought about because so much of our present was determined by our past.
Sitting there within a half dozen steps of the river, Paul played mental tennis with the past. The first serve was his time at sea. The return was entirely something else; it was about a man named Simon Smelensky, Doctor Sy his family’s physician and before that Essy’s family’s physician. A man of average height with a somewhat longish face, he played the role of a surrogate father without either of them knowing it until sometime after Sy’s death when Paul recognized their relationship for what it was. Though Sy followed the tenets of the Hebrew faith, Paul was never sure that he believed or he didn’t, and was more of agnostic than he was willing to admit. Most of their discussions about such matters or other things took place while they were fishing.
They went fishing on Friday because that was the day that Sy took off. They started the Friday outings shortly after they met, long before Paul had graduated from college and married Essy. The winter was only time they didn’t go. But from early April to late October they went fishing.
Much later their Friday outings frequently became family affairs. Essy, Martin (Paul’s youngest son), Helen, Bobby, and Sy’s wife and youngest son joined them. Their older sons seldom went with them. Paul was the designated driver, and sometimes at Sy’s behest, he’d drive up to Eastern Parkway to pick up Dave, another doctor and an even more ardent fisherman than either Sy or Paul. But even if they made that detour, he always turned down Nostrand Avenue and headed to Knapp Street where they stopped to pick up containers of coffee and various kinds of Danish pastries and muffins. Then, as soon as they boarded the boat, Sy would announce it was time to eat and what they had bought would be gone before they left the pier. But they had sandwiches and thermoses of tea and coffee for lunch, since the boat left the dock at seven in the morning at didn’t return until four in the afternoon. These excursions were out of Captree, Long Island, and they fished in the Great South Bay, though sometimes they went through an inlet an in to the Ocean. The sensations of the roll, pitch, and yaw of the boat were completely different. You couldn’t help but feel the movement; it felt as if the sea was breathing, especially if a slight wind came up. There was more pitching, yawing, and rolling than in bay, so that you had difficulty keeping your balance or walking on any part of the boat.
It was during these fishing expeditions that Paul and Sy would have their discussions while watching the tips of their fishing poles for the telltale movement that indicated a fish was nibbling at the bait; then the discussion would cease and the one whose pole showed the movement would play the fish, sometimes hooking it. But just as often the fish successfully took the bait off the hook “to live another day.”
It was from these discussions that Paul learned—perhaps “learned’ is the wrong word—developed seems to fit better because it inherently it indicates something that happened over a period of time and what happened, happened that way, over a long period of time. And it led Paul to the understanding that his death, when it came, would be nothing less than the fulfillment of his life, that there wouldn’t be any sadness attached to it other than what other people might impute to it. It was the act dying that could be horrific, and that is a variable no one has control over.
Paul carried the imprint of this idea throughout his life, and in his eighty-fifth year, it meant more to him than he would have realized when he first became conscious of it so many years ago.
The first ball was still in midair when another one came over the net forcing him to racket it back from wherever it came from. But he was still mentally agile enough to keep more than one ball in the air. But this one was different from the other one. It seemed heavier and certainly was darker, practically black.